Misconceptions about the United Arab Emirates and Luxury

By Isabel Tapp, Founder of Luxury Communications Council, GCC Chapter

With Ferraris at every corner, palatial malls and women swinging their designer handbags, it’s easy to leap to conclusions about what luxury is to those living in the United Arab Emirates. As a country with one of the highest disposable incomes in the world and a booming economy, opulence seems standard. But scratch the surface and you’ll discover there’s more than meets the eye.

1. We take luxury goods for granted

Visit a Dubai hotspot and you’ll notice designer sneakers, malls filled with Hermes and Saint Laurent stores, and billboards depicting enormous villas that only the rich and famous could possibly afford. You would think designer goods are almost disposable, bought every other month as fashion changes.

While UAE households enjoy some of the highest disposable incomes in the world, the reality is that steep cost of living curbs luxury spending; the range of incomes is also vast.  

Though luxury sales have swelled in the UAE, they are mainly driven by international tourists from Saudi Arabia, China and Africa, flocking to Dubai for their designer fix, more than local spending.

2. We love everything gold

We may have the hit show Dubai Bling, but having every inch of our homes gilded is not our idea of luxury. While Dubai may have the renowned Gold Souk, the city became known as the City of Gold for other reasons.

The city has always been known for trading, with its central location bridging the east and west and providing tax-free goods for tourists. It’s estimated that between 20% to 40% of the world’s gold passes through Dubai every year.

In terms of interiors and what the high-spending GCC travellers look for while travelling – GCC travellers will spend on average as much as six times more than those from other regions –  its not gold taps as the cliché goes…  What matters most is plenty of space and comfort as well as warm hospitality and 24/7 service.    

3. Luxury is exclusively big brands

The designer-lined malls may lead you to think international fashion houses are the be all and end all of luxury. But with a raft of upcoming designers in the UAE, this couldn’t be further from the truth. What Emiratis and UAE residents value is well-made, quality items, that aren’t mass produced.  Something you’re unlikely to see on someone else. And our taste is international.

Middle East Fashion Week, November 2022

The latest Middle East Fashion Week had crowds swooning over cashmere and silk collections from young Mongolian designers. Ethically made and carefully crafted, only a handful of pieces are made for each collection.  The Collections oozed minimalism and sophistication, ideal for globe-trotting women looking for style while also being sustainably made.

Appearances are often misleading.  There is so much more to the UAE and filled with myths to be dispelled.